“That I have great heaviness and continual sorrow in my heart. For I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh:”
We have all had experiences that have saddened us. Sometimes the word ‘sad’ is too shallow to describe what we are feeling, we might say we are sorrowful or even consumed with grief. When a relationship comes to an end or someone we love dies, the sadness is often so deep it becomes difficult to manage.
I find it challenging as I read what saddened Paul so deeply. He does not describe himself as sorrowful when he writes of the great difficulties he faced while following Jesus. It was not shipwrecks, beatings, prison or hunger that broke his heart. Instead, it was the spiritual condition of his family and friends. When he writes of his countrymen, he is referring to the Jewish people. They were the ones he grew up with, went to school with, worked with and hung around, before coming to Christ. As he looks at the accomplishments of his years of serving Christ, he is still saddened by the fact that many, so close to him, have yet to come to Christ. The sadness is so deep, he states that were it possible (which of course it is not), he would trade places with them, taking the punishment of separation from God that they might be saved.
As he continues to pour out his heart for his friends, he gives us insight into the reason for their condition. He speaks of how years before they were born, God had planned for their salvation, yet they refused to believe in Christ and receive the pardon for sin.
Their unbelief was caused by a number of things. First, the message of the cross was a stumbling block to them, because Jesus was not the Messiah they were expecting. Their expectation had them looking for a powerful military leader who would overthrow the Roman oppression and restore the nation to the glory days. Instead, a humble Messiah arrived on a donkey and died on a cross. It is very common today for some to respond to Christ only to reject Him later, because their expectations are not being met. They assumed, following Jesus would mean their troubles would be behind them, their marriages fixed, or their financial burdens removed. When that did not happen, they turned from Christ, returning to the old life. Second, many rejected Christ because of popular opinion.
In the grand scheme of things, only a few of the Jewish people were responding to Christ. Most rejected Him, causing others to reject Him as well. This is still happening today. In a world where Jesus is looked down upon, and belief in the Bible is ridiculed, many refuse Christ because they want to be accepted by others. Third, another reason for refusing to believe in Christ was pride. Pride will always keep a person from Christ. We must humble ourselves and freely receive the gift of Christ to be saved.
Let’s pray we develop a heart like Paul’s, that would break at the thought of people rejecting Christ, and would compel us to share the love of Christ with a dying world.